Tennessee running back DeMarco Murray hasn’t played in either of the Titans’ preseason games this month, and the Pro Bowler might not play on Sunday in the third one.
Murray missed nearly two weeks of training camp with a hamstring issue. He returned to practice on Aug. 14, but sat out the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Aug. 19.
Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said Murray would be a game-time decision on Sunday, too, when the Titans host the Chicago Bears. FOX will televise the game at noon CDT.
Former Alabama standout Derrick Henry has stepped in for Murray with the first-team offense during the two preseason games.
Mularkey had a one-word answer when asked on Wednesday how Henry had done as a pinch-hitter for Murray: “Phenomenal.”
Mularkey said he liked “how well he’s played, how prepared he is. There’s a play the other night that we faked it to him, it was a screen, the one with (tight end) Jonnu (Smith) down the sideline. The guy all the way down the field blocking for Jonnu was Derrick Henry. If that doesn’t say a lot about who he is and what type of player he is, when you’re faking away from the play and you end up blocking for the guy catching the ball, that’s pretty impressive.”
Henry has rushed for 65 yards on 24 carries and caught four passes for 17 yards in the preseason. In last week’s 34-27 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Henry scored on a 17-yard run and a 1-yard run.
“It felt pretty good,” Henry said after the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the end zone.”
But has Henry’s work with the first team made Mularkey rethink the workload at running back?
“Not really, no,” Mularkey said.
Mularkey said he gets “a lot” of questions about balancing the carries between Murray and Henry. Last year, Murray rushed for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns on 293 carries and Henry had 490 yards and five touchdowns on 110 rushing attempts.
“Look, I know, I understand (Henry’s) ability and what he can do,” Mularkey said. “I also know what DeMarco Murray can do as well. We’re pretty fortunate we have two guys that are very potent. … We’ve got a lot of guys, we have much more weapons since I got here that have to be distributed to. But at no point are we going to force it to any one of them.”
Murray and Henry were new to the Titans last season. Murray came in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Henry entered the NFL as a second-round draft choice out of Alabama after winning the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
“Physically, that guy is special,” Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota said about Henry. “He comes to practice, puts in the effort and puts in the hard work that is needed. And he has made plays in the preseason, even dating back to last year.
“To have a guy like that in the backfield is going to be very important to us as the season goes on. I think he is going to be one of those guys who can make plays.”
Murray won’t be the only player in the Tennessee backfield who’ll be a game-time decision. So will fullback Jalston Fowler. The former Vigor High School and Alabama standout went down in the preseason game against Carolina with what appeared to be a serious injury. It turned out to be a thigh bruise, and Fowler returned to practice on Friday.
Henry helped Fowler off the field after he was hurt.
“That’s like having family in the backfield,” Henry said. “That’s like my brother. As soon as I saw him on the ground, I rushed over there to make sure he was good.”